Polyptoton in In Memoriam: Evolution, Speculation, Elegy

Gray, Erik I.

The prominent use of polyptoton in In Memoriam is significant both for the way it reflects Tennyson’s deeply held beliefs and, more broadly, for its implications for elegy as a genre. As regards Tennyson in particular, his willingness to register his faith in the value of evolutionary change within the very form of his words has a dual effect: it reinforces our sense of that faith while also communicating a philosophical stance, an implied claim that language is not distinct from the natural world in which we live but fully participates in its processes. More generally, Tennyson’s use of polyptoton to embody his constant imaginative speculation offers insight into the workings of elegy, which derives its effectiveness from its ability, not to end grief, but to reimagine and transfigure it. By demonstrating at the most fundamental linguistic level the possibilities of perpetual variation, polyptoton is able to play an essential role in the adaptive work of mourning that elegy undertakes.


Also Published In

SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900

More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Published Here
February 16, 2016


[Note: This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article published in
Studies in English Literature following peer review. The version of record is
“Polyptoton in In Memoriam: Evolution, Speculation, Elegy,” SEL: Studies in
English Literature, 1500-1900 55.4 (Autumn 2015), 841-860.]